When you can’t be there: Dog kennel alternatives | TheUnion.com
Joan Merriam
Special to The Union

When you can’t be there: Dog kennel alternatives

All of us who love our dogs would like to be able to take them with us everywhere, but that's not always possible.

A quick shopping trip? Sure.

A family getaway? Maybe.

But what about a business trip, a cruise or an overseas vacation?

No matter how much we love them and consider them to be members of our family, there are simply times when we can't take our canine companions with us when we leave home.

So what's a conscientious pet owner to do? For decades, people have turned to local kennels when they needed their dogs boarded — and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that option, if you've found a kennel that fits your dog's needs and temperament, and in which you feel confident.

Thanks to a rapidly expanding market of pet services, however, today's pet parents have many more choices when it comes to finding a place to leave their dogs when they can't take them along.

One of the newest options comes courtesy of an Internet site called SleepoverRover.com.

Since 2004, this company has pioneered the notion of boarding dogs in private homes. The so-called "host families" go through an intensive screening and certification process that includes a home visit by a company representative. In turn, all dogs (as well as the pet parents) referred to the host are pre-screened for security and safety.

Currently, SleepoverRover has host homes in Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Southern California.While no host homes are currently available in our area, if you're interested in hosting you can contact SleepoverRover.

You can also find open-marketplace versions of the same concept at sites like DogVacay.com and Rover.com.

Here, pet parents search through a listing of available hosts, along with their rates and acceptance criteria (such as size or breed of dog, length of stay, availability of special services, etc.), and can ask specific questions.

Most hosts post photos of their home and yard so owners can see the actual environment where their pet will be staying.

At these sites, you can search for hosts with special training such as pet CPR or certification from professional organizations, and read reviews by owners who have used their services.

Both companies include free liability insurance for the host and medical coverage for all animals in the host's care. Rates typically start at $25 a night.

Another option for short- or long-term dog care is a professional pet sitter. But how do you find someone reputable, trustworthy, and who's a good match for your dog?

First, talk with your vet, groomer, and fellow dog owners for recommendations.

As with everything, personal references are the best.

You can also look on the Web, utilizing sites like Care.com, PetSitterPortal.com or Angie's List. Keep in mind that our location away from major cities means you may find few or no listings on these specialized sites. (When I entered "95945" in the search box on both the Pet Sitters International and National Association of Professional Pet Sitters websites, nothing at all came up.)

On the other hand, Googling something like "pet sitters Grass Valley CA" will yield some very good results.

But getting names is only the beginning: you need to spend time researching anyone you're going to entrust with the care of your pet.

Here are the most important things to keep in mind:

— Ask for references—preferably local — and check on them. Talk with people who've used their services, and don't be afraid to ask probing questions.

— Ask if the sitter is bonded and insured. Some will be, some won't. You have to decide how important this is to you.

— If you're expecting the sitter to stay in your home, it's absolutely critical that you request some level of background verification, and read that background report.

Remember, you're trusting this person not just with your beloved companion, but also with the keys to your home, and everything in it.

— Ask about the sitter's experience with the breed and age of dog you have. Don't accept a vague answer about how they love "every type" of dog—follow up with more specific questions.

There's a big difference between caring for a 12-week-old dachshund and a 12-year old mastiff.

— Find out if the sitter is willing or able to provide your dog with the exercise she's accustomed to, but be reasonable. If you're in training for a marathon and regularly take Fido on 8-mile runs, don't expect your sitter to do the same.

— Conduct an initial interview with the sitter so you can observe how she/he interacts with your dog.

If your dog will be going to their home, insist on doing a home visit to make sure it's clean and free of obvious hazards.

If the sitter will be staying at your home, ask them to visit you before you sign the contract. Some pet sitters will do this for no charge, while others charge a nominal fee for their time and travel.

So whether you're leaving home for pleasure or profit, business or the beach, make sure you've done everything you can to keep your canine companion happy and healthy while you're gone.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her golden retriever Casey (hence, "Casey's Corner"). Contact Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you're looking for a golden, check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.